Home | Contact Us | Internet & Advertising Services
"No section of Eastern Pennsylvania appeals more strongly to the admirer of the Picturesque of Nature than does the Valley of the Perkiomen. And it is no exaggeration to say that in no section of the Eastern end of the Keystone State is there any section susceptible of more profitable development. Thrifty villagers and farmers have already contributed largely to the prosperity of this beautiful Valley, and the transportation accommodations afforded by a single steam railroad are soon to be augmented by the construction of electric railways from Collegeville through a chain of towns and villages to the upper regions of the Valley."
"The Perkiomen creek, long known as a prolific fishing ground, attracts hordes of anglers, whose numbers increases with each recurring bass season. Each summer marks an increase in the army of Philadelphia who come out for a respite from the heat, turmoil, smoke, dust and monotony of the city. These summer visitors find accommodations in a number of modern hotels and boarding houses, the surroundings of which afford every facility for enjoying the purest air that Nature supplies, amid scenery, which Nature has been lavish in providing. Fishing, bathing, and boating are among the pastimes that contribute to the making of life in the Perkiomen Valley a joy in the glorious summer. Almost from its source to its confluence with the Schuylkill, the Perkiomen creek winds its way between rugged, wooded hills, which are dotted with homes of a thrifty and contented people. These hills offer an unusual opportunity to the investor and seeker after a summer paradise."
"Notwithstanding the prosperity and grandeur of the Perkiomen Valley, there is still much to be done in developing its full resources."
Taken from Collegeville Borough Comprehensive Plan 1971
“Collegeville Mills. Located on Route 29, north of the town center, Collegeville Mill was the first mill on the Perkiomen. The mill was constructed in 1708 by Edward Lane. It was used for flour and grist and was powered by turning water. The original millstones, imported from France, are still within the mill, although the mill itself was converted to electrical power at the turn of the century. the mill was a model of the technology of the past two centuries, besides being a structure connected with the early settlement of Collegeville."
The records of the Collegeville Mill, as we have them here, consisted of 13 large volumes covering the business from 1898 to 1929, with the books missing for certain intervals. As far as the age of the mill is concerned, this record is all very recent.
There is no known record of when a mill was first built at what is now Collegeville, but it certainly was before the Revolutionary War. On the tax lists for 1781 there were seven grist mills in Providence Township. Providence Township at that time consisted of what is now Lower Providence and Upper Providence and one cannot be sure of just where each of these mills was located without checking each individual name. Some of them may have been along smaller streams, but certainly most of them were along the Perkiomen and most certainly one of them was at what is now Collegeville, which was on the main highway.
The Montgomery County atlas of 1871 shows nine gristmills along the Perkiomen between Schwenksville and the point where the Skippack flows into the Perkiomen. Two of these mills where in Skippack Township, three in Lower Providence and four in Upper Providence. The mill at Collegeville was marked “J.W. Sunderland”. The next mill down stream was 5/8 of a mile below Perkiomen Bridge and was marked “H.Evans”, and 2nd below the bridge were two mills at Yerkes, one on each side of the Perkiomen, marked “C.Heebner”. In the Montgomery County atlas of 1876 the mill at Collegeville was marked “J.Worrall”; the first one below the bridge was marked “G. Pechin”; the one at Yerkes on the Lower Providence side was marked “J. Landis”; and the one on the Upper Providence side “C.B. Heebner”. There was no room for any more mills and as it was, there was a serious water problem.
The most serious problem was that between the mill at Collegeville and the Heebner mill down stream (the one marked “H.Evans” in 1971). The name Worrall appears as owner of the Collegeville mill as early as 1830. The exact year could probably be found by checking records. There is a long and interesting story of the controversy between the Worralls and the Heebners, which dragged through the courts for more than a dozen years to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.
The gist of the story is that the Heebners, by raising the height of the breast of their milldam interfered with the operation of the Worrall mill. (A complete history of the case is found in a 67-page booklet printed for the court.) The dam breast was only 18 inches high, which shows how little drop there is in flow of the stream. The matter was thought to be settled in 1849 when referees were appointed who set an iron pin in the rock alongside the stream, marking the limit the Heebner dam was permitted to raise the water level. However, it appears that the Heebners never strictly observed the limit and the water level at most times was several inches higher, continually interfering with the operation of the Worrall mill, so that the case dragged along in the courts for years.”
Older residents have recalled farmers taking their apples to the mill to be ground into cider in the fall. Others like Lucille Miller, recall her Grandfather’s dam from a child’s view; “ All the young one’s would go down to the dam to swim and fish when it was hot during the summer. It was a wonderful place where one could enjoy the Perkiomen Creek.”
The dam’s previous owners include, Lane, Sunderland, Worrall, Detweiler, Clamer, Umstead, Montgomery Bucks Farm Bureau, and Collegeville Borough. Mr. Clamer built the mansion on Main Street in Collegeville, which is now a dormitory for Ursinus College.
Lane- Received land from William Penn and was one of the first settlers in the Perkiomen Valley
Sunderland- Co-founder of the first female college in the United States, Collegeville PA.
Worrall- Involed in water rights dispute over dam that went to PA Supreme Court.
Clamer- Metallurgist and prominent citizen. Owner of Ajax Metal Co. Clamer Hall, Ursinus College.
Recent evidence suggests that a lake was held behind Collegeville Mill Dam. Shady Nook Dam, located above the dam, fell into disrepair and the owner, Andrew V. Borkey, could not afford to repair it. These quotes was taken from a newspaper clipping in the Independent in the early 1950’s:
“RAMBLING at RANDOM with Jay Howard
We are in favor of cleaning up the Perkiomen Creek and stopping every bit of pollution (everyone in the Valley should be); but not at the great sacrifice of giving up our small dams. We realize to, that the Suburban Water Company, who own the water, are interested in getting it from their Green Lane reservoir to their Oaks recapturing pumping station, as quickly as possible, without evaporation loss and pollution pickup
Our point is that the Perkiomen Valley owed its former great popularity as a recreation center to the some 30 old gristmill and ice harvesting dams. These dams are what made possible the water areas for swimming, boating, fishing, skating, or just enjoying the scenery.
Without these small dams the Perkiomen Creek will become a shallow, narrow ditch in normal weather and a raging turbulent torrent during flood times. Where the dams have already been washed out you can readily see how the entire Valley between Green Lane and Oaks will look like after the dams are gone.
Our project in the Perkiomen Valley is not only to clean up the sewage problem; but also to re store our recreation facilities. The problem seems to boil down to whether we want to go all, 100 percent, even to the sacrifice of our small dam recreation facilities. We hope a satisfactory compromise can be effected at the residents of this once scenic and beautiful valley will not be forced into an “all or nothing" decision by the state Department of Health.”
“RAMBLING at RANDOM with Jay Howard
While many taxpayers, who will pay the bill, are aware of the proposed two big monstrosity dams planned in this area, one below Evansburg on the Skippack Creek, and the other near Lederach on the East Branch Creek, no one seems to be much interested in preserving the few small dams still remaining along the Perkiomen Creek.
It was the many small mill dams at least dams on the Perkiomen Creek that made this valley such a beautiful and popular resort center in years gone by. If a stitch in time saves nine- then wouldn’t a few thousand dollars that now to preserve what we still have save hundreds of thousands later? By the way, the new dam built by the Goodrich Rubber Company a few years ago, near the mouth of the Perkiomen at Oaks, cost a quarter of a million.
There is a pertinent and serious problem presented by the Collegeville Mill's dam here, now owned by the Montgomery Bucks Farm Bureau Cooperative. This local dam is in bad shape caused by the spring ice flood of the last few years. The “auxiliary” or second dam opposite Shady Nook, which keeps the water from going around Borkey’s Island, is also in very bad shape. For probably several thousand dollars concrete patches can be applied to the three bad spots in these two dams, which should save the dams for a number of years. A stitch in time should indeed save many more dollars later.
Harry Umstead, a former owner of the Collegeville Mills, now living retired in Florida, has been contacted and writes that the last repairs to the two dams were made 10 years ago 1955, at his cost and direction and then approximated $3000. Harry thinks another $3000 spent now should put the two dams in shape for another 10 years of flood and ice battering. He knows by experience.
State and County officials have in years past often been approached about dam repairs here and elsewhere in the Perkiomen Valley, and their reply has always been, “Our hands are tied, we cannot spend taxpayers’ money on privately owned dams.”
The owners of the dam here, the Montgomery Bucks Farm Bureau have not used the down for waterpower for many years. Therefore they cannot be expected to spend their stockholders money on a dam project which will bring them no return.
So unless the various property owners along the dam and the civic associations in the area, band together and form an organization or an association of some kind to spearhead definite action, there will be nothing done. And in the course of a few years the Collegeville Mills dam will go down the drain and we will have a big dry ditch to look at instead of a beautiful dam full of water to enjoy while fishing, swimming, boating, skating or just looking. Somebody better get busy and organize some kind of action soon!”
“TIMES HERALD: OUR READERS SAY:
Editor, Times Herald:
Temporarily forestalled in this vale of tears, with plenty of time to think and concentrate here in Riverview hospital within a malady the medico’s diagnosed as pneumonia, may I thank you for your splendid editorial on the neglect of the Perkiomen in your valuable columns Thursday last. It was indeed a tonic. Alas however, its therapeutic benefits were to be short-lived. They were to vanish, but 24 hours later with the publishing of Mr. Herron’s candid, stark, and truthful statement of fax at the meeting of the Whitemarsh Board of Supervisors. I quote a few of Mr. Herron’s remarks: “ From the governor on down, they talk about cleaning our streams but they don’t do anything about it. Let’s bring the prisoners out of Graterford and other penitentiaries and have them clean up the area so the people can again swim and fish.”
With alacrity I note too, the grant by the County Commissioners, which I am sure, was a sincere gesture, laudatory, and done in true spirit of co-operation with Mrs. Paul’s Committee and the Perkiomen Valley Watershed Association for the study of weeds and vegetation in the channels of our Perkiomen Creek. But me thinks that any outlay of cash first and primarily should have gone for the restoration or at least the repairing of the dam in the Perkiomen at Arcola, or what used to be a dam… the first…. below the confluence of the Perkiomen and the Skippack Creeks.
Records of the Pennsylvania State Department of Forests and Waters disclose that the last permit issued to the County Commissioners to repair the Arcola dam was back in 1933. That was 33 years ago. In that long time we have had many floods and hurricanes. Most devastating were the well-remembered three ladies of catastrophe and destruction Carol, Dora, and the last, but not least, Hazel in 1953.
Now, we have the huge dam of the Suburban Water Co. at Green Lane. A good reconstruction job on the walls of the dam at Arcola could restore practically all the Lower Perkiomen from Arcola to the Green Lane dam by an increased depth of two and a half to three feet. Make the Perkiomen again serviceable for canoeing and better fishing, submerge considerable all of the so-called obnoxious vegetation, and too with the restoration of the creek to its former normal depth eliminate many stagnant stink-holes together with the pest and mosquito breeding grounds that now exist.
Perhaps, the penning of this letter, too, is a gesture of futility and the impact it might make on problem in hand may have the significance of but a drop of rain in a deluge. However, I feel I am voicing the sentiments of not only the residents along the banks of the Lower Perkiomen, but scores of other County residents who resent the wanton neglect of our County’s longest and largest stream… the once lovely Perkiomen. Particularly so, when neighboring Bucks proceeds with its splendid Federal Aid project on their Neshaminy Creek which includes the erection of no less than (10) T-E-N dams along the course on a worthwhile costs.
I pray that someone amongst the powers-that-be invested with the power to take action may take up the cudgel in the Perkiomen’s behalf.
Should I be contributing a tiny mite towards this valiant cause of Mrs. Paul and others my temporary setback here will not have been entirely fruitless and the opportunity to pen this missile will not have been entirely in vain.
Thomas W. Bell
Room 121 Riverview Hospital”
“RAMBLING at RANDOM with Jay Howard
The dams along the Perkiomen are a matter of some great concern to property owners and to the folks who enjoy the stream for recreation for fishing or for other purposes. Indeed preservation of the dams and maintaining the stream should be the vital concern to all residents of the area. The stream is important to all of us.
Because the Perkiomen offers a possible source of water at some distant date, because it is very important for recreation and water sports, because it helps maintain a balance of nature, it concerns all of us. Stand below Collegeville Mills Dam and lookup creek and you'll be better able to visualize the need for keeping that and other dams in good repair. If dams fail, so do boating, fishing, swimming and other water sports. If the dams fail the stream would recede, leaving a sea of unsightly mud. Residents would not have buildings on the water but far above the water line and with a sea of mud between the present landings and the stream if there were no dams.”
“Following is a pertinent letter by Andrew V. Borkey, who owns one of the longest frontages along the Perkiomen Creek here. The letter touches on a various serious local problem, repair of local dams here.
Dear Jay: I have just finished reading your column and was particularly interested in your comments calling attention to the community apathy relative to the rapid deterioration of our local water and scenic resources. Since I am, perhaps more directly concerned than any other local property holder, I would like to make a few comments of my own.
Many of your readers will recall Island Grove. It was a popular picnic spot and people came by the thousands to enjoy the recreational facilities, which were provided at a small cost of. We continued to operate the park up until a few years ago when under the pressure from State Regulatory Authorities and increasing vandalism we were forced to close the grounds. The cost of repairing the two dams was another factor in our decision. During all the years when Island Grove was opened to the public there's no one instance I can recall when any of the property owners opposite Shady Nook Dam offered to contribute one nickel towards the upkeep of the lake which we shared in common.
Now as a result of local unconcern I have a problem. The Shady Nook Dam, which protects the water level in the lake is in an advanced stage of deterioration. It was only a question of a short time if nothing is done, when a major break will occur which will lower the water level at a lake. I tried several years ago to get the State Department of Waters and Forestry interested in our problem. The Dept. sent a representative out to see me. We looked into the problem and discussed the matter and that was as far as we got. I was told that the Department had no funds to spend towards such projects-just enough to pay salaries and office expenses. If any of your readers can come up with a good suggestion I hope they will speak up. I am sure of one thing, that is, unless something is done soon, I run the risk of seeing the creek change its course at the Shady Nook Dam and flowing through my meadow bypassing the old mill Dam. I don't want to see this happen and I'm willing to do my share to see that it doesn't happen.
---A. V. Borkey River Road, Collegeville”
In the summer of 1966, the Skip-Perk Jaycees undertook the repair of the dams. The following was a memo sent to be local organizations of Skippack and Collegeville area requesting immediate aid.
“ The Skippack Perk Jaycees undertaking a project to repair two dams on the Perkiomen Creek in Collegeville. The two dams are in very bad shape, one dam going directly across the creek behind the Farm Bureau building (Collegeville Mill); and the other is a diverting dam, to keep the water from flowing down and around the original dam, which would drain the present lake. Unless these dams are repaired, the Perkiomen Creek will be nothing more than a muddy, mosquito-laden swamp in the Collegeville area. Do you want this to happen?
To Jaycees asking the aid of every sportsman, factory worker, and businessman. You, the citizens of the area, can help by sending a donation to the Jaycees Dam Repair Project, Box 73, Collegeville Pennsylvania. Please help by sending your check today. Thank you!”
Collegeville Borough purchased Collegeville Mill Dam in 1969 using Project 70 funding, citing “historical and recreational purposes”.
Because of the Jaycees efforts, both of the Collegeville dams were repaired. Since then, due to Collegeville Borough’s lack of responsibility as current owners of the Collegeville Mill Dam; help is required once again. We need your help, and as usual it’s up to the citizens of Collegeville, Skippack and Lower Providence to be responsible. Please help us save our dam, again.